In 2019, Incubus returned home from a tour in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the 1999 album Make Yourself. The momentum from that tour would’ve lead nicely to a UK tour, but the pandemic spoiled those plans.
“It was an unusual experience,” says singer Brandon Boyd via Zoom from his Southern California home, when asked about getting grounded. Incubus performs with Sublime with Rome on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at Blossom. “I have to say, though, in hindsight, as disappointing as it was to have an entire European tour just disappear, it felt like the least of our problems at that moment. The world got turned over on its head, and it felt like we should just stay home. This is really the weirdest thing that has been ever happened to our species in about 100 years.”
During the downtime, Boyd started to record covers of songs he liked, including a rendition of the Cat Stevens classic “Wild World.” Inspired, he then reached out to producer and musician John Congleton, whom he’d never met in-person, and the two began collaborating on what would become Boyd’s solo album, Echoes & Cocoons.
“We sent music back and forth and did Facetime sessions,” Boyd says of working with Congleton. “In short order, we had a full album. I sat on it for a little while to make sure it came out properly. There was part of me that was concerned that putting an album out wasn’t a good idea. [Given the state of the pandemic,] it was impossible to notice anything. I thought it would just disappear. I waited, and even then, it’s still the internet. You’re competing with something you just can’t compete with.”
Boyd also had surgery on his septum and fixed a problem that had afflicted him for years.
“I kind of lucked out with my surgery,” he says. “I had a nice long window to recover. My nose was broken a couple of times when I was a kid. I learned how to sing with one functioning nostril. I think it was strangely advantageous. I don’t why, but it created a certain tone in my voice. As we get older, our noses and ears never stop growing, and that was creating deeper and deeper complications with breathing and singing. In the surgery, they basically beat up on the side of my face. [Incubus] was going to go back out in 2020. It would have been fine. I would have adapted, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise because my face and nose got to recover.”
Earlier this year, to mark the 20th anniversary of 2001’s Morning View, the band performed the album in its entirety during a livestream that took place in the very room where the band wrote and recorded the album.
“It was a beautiful experience to go back to this place that didn’t look that different at all,” says Boyd. “It was this big ostentatious house on a cliff in Malibu. It’s not a nice mansion. On the outside, it’s gigantic. But you go in, and it’s kind of falling into disrepair. For us, that was paradise. If it had been too pristine, we would have bruised it a little bit. You couldn’t hurt it. It was fun and freeing for us to be there. What an amazing thing to go to the place where we wrote and recorded this record that deeply changed our lives.”
Boyd says the current tour will be “Morning View-heavy,” but he says the band won’t play the entire album.
“We don’t do it front-to-back,” he says. “We have too many places to visit sonically and creatively in the set as well. We need to visit all the other places where Incubus has been as well.”
Coming in the wake of Make Yourself, an album that had had some commercial success, Morning View found the band continuing to develop the proggy, art-rock side of its sound. While the band had been lumped in with nu-metal acts such as Korn and Deftones, Incubus had started to explore other textures. Songs such as the riveting “Nice to Know You,” a tune that effectively lurches from quiet moments to loud ones, and the atmospheric “Wish You Were Here,” a song with subtle turntable scratches and shimmering guitars, suggest the musical shift.
“I think we started to learn about restraint,” says Boyd of the approach on Morning View. “We had the ability and capacity to play lots of notes and get as many sounds in as possible. Our first album, S.C.I.E.N.C.E. ,is representative of that. As we were graduating into bigger rooms, the songs from S.C.I.E.N.C.E. started to sound more disjointed as they echoed in rooms that were bigger. It started to creep into our general consciousness. Space played a huge role in both the writing and recording of Morning View. Every time [drummer] Jose [Pasillas] would hit a snare, you could hear it off the ceiling in a different way. The bigger the room, the better the song sounds.”
Unlike other acts that try to take advantage of music trends for commercial success, Incubus seemed to shift because of artistic interests.
“It wouldn’t be entirely truthful to say that the commercial sides of things that was slowly creeping into our point of view didn’t effect us,” says Boyd. “It couldn’t not. That kind of commercial pressure exists whether you want it to or not. How much you allow it into your creative process becomes the choice. We have learned how to balance those peripheral pressures and only allow it into our creative space so much. It was more of an afterthought. It wasn’t in the forefront of our creativity. We approached and approach making music from — for want of a better term — a selfish place. We try to make songs and sounds that are pleasing to us and ones that need to exist. If an artist or group of artists allow that peripheral capitalist commercial voice in too much, it changes the conversation.”
Boyd says new music from Incubus, which last released an EP in 2020, is likely on the horizon.
“We are just getting into rehearsal mode for the shows we have coming up,” he says. “If my past experience with this band holds true, new music starts to emerge when we get back in the room together. Once we’re up and running, I’m sure stuff will start pouring out of us. The sliver lining of the pandemic — and I say this knowing full well that it’s been a devastating time for everyone, but I like to look for a silver lining in every circumstance I can— is that I learned how to sit still for a minute. It’s been a challenge for me. Sometimes, you need to sit still and plant roots. I started growing food here at my house, and I’m in a deeper relationship with my closest loved ones, and now I can go out and travel for a bit knowing that new levels of relationships have been formed.”
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].